Your Name: Mark Bissett
Occupation: Retired Police Officer
Home Town: Bewdley, Worcestershire
What is your running background?
I always loved running and keeping fit. As a young boy I would go running for fun. I had no natural talent and wasn’t particularly fast, but I loved training and the great outdoors. Some of my earliest fitness memories are running with Dad whilst preparing for his Annual Army Fitness Test. My desire to cover long distances on foot was evident from an early age. During the summer holidays after leaving school, I hiked to Barmouth and back, a round trip of about 180 miles, raising money for Cancer Relief. I completed my first road marathon at the age of 17 and continued to run through my college years, when I was also competing as an amateur boxer. I joined the Police at the age of 18 and started playing club rugby at a decent level. This became my main sporting focus for the next 30 years, as a player and latterly as a coach. During these years, I maintained a good level of participation in running, completing various road races and mountain marathons. In 2015, after 31 years of service, I retired from the Police and also stood-down from my involvement in rugby. Ultra running then became my focus. In recent years I have raced and completed numerous long-distance events in the UK, Ireland and France. I love running in the Alps and the Pyrenees, but equally enjoy the long-distance canal races in the UK and world city road marathons.
When did you first start running Ultra marathons and why?
I completed my first ultra marathon in March 2014, a 40 miler across Staffordshire.
Running further than 26.2 miles had never previously featured on my ‘radar’.
I was completely unaware of ultramarathon running but whilst in Chamonix taking part in the Mont Blanc Marathon, I learned of the UTMB and other 100 mile races! I was fascinated and in order to learn more, I subscribed to some popular ultramarathon podcasts.
I listened to entire back-catalogues, totally in awe of the distances and achievements of UK and oversees athletes. Tales of hardship endured during races such a as GUCR, Lakeland 100 and Spartathlon put the ‘fear of God’ in me, but I eventually plucked up the courage to enter my first race.
I subsequently completed my first 100 mile race in May 2015 in the Shropshire Hills and now have multiple 100 mile+ finishes under my belt.
From humble running beginnings, I know Spartathlon will be my greatest challenge. It terrifies me, but I’m honored to be taking part.
When or where (at which events) are we most likely to see you?
I’m not a creature of habit, but in recent years I’ve featured in several Canal Races. I’ve now completed 6 CanalRace C.I.C races and achieved the Canalslam in 2018.
I also love running in the Alps and the Pyrenees and have completed some fantastic mountain ultras in recent years.
The Marathon du Mont Blanc series of races at Chamonix in June are my favorite. I’ve previously completed the marathon, the Cross (half-marathon), the VK and the 80K and will take part in the 90K again this summer.
I also enjoy road running and can be found running various marathons every April. I love running the London Marathon and make a point of trying to maintain my Fast for Age time (midlife crisis!!)
What are your personal key running achievements to date?
As I mentioned earlier, I’m no elite. I’ve never won a race, but here are some of my better finishes:
- Lakeland 100 2016 – 26:52:08
- GUCR 2019 – 32:21
- Canalslam 2018 – 3rdoverall in combined time of 99hrs 45 mins
What was your hardest race experience?
King Offas Dyke Race 2016 (185 miles Chepstow to Prestatyn) – Finished in 85 hrs 41 mins
My feet were shredded due to the wrong choice of footwear during the first 100 miles. A death march to the finish which I never want to repeat!
What events do you have planned for 2018 up to Spartathlon? (Dates/name of key events)
- 9thFebruary – Slí Gaeltacht Mhúscraí Ultra, Ireland (44 miles) – complete 8:56
- 7thApril – Manchester Marathon – complete 3:24:55
- 14thApril – Off the Tarmac Marathon (Brecon Beacons) – complete 6:25
- 20thApril – Gregynog Hall Marathon (Powys) – complete 3:52:52
- 21stApril – The Bunny Hop Marathon (Worcestershire) – complete 3:37:44
- 28thApril – Shakespeare Marathon (Stratford-upon-Avon) – complete 3:24:38
- 11thMay – Ultra Trail Snowdonia 50 – complete 16:11
- 25thMay – Grand Union Canal Race – complete 32:21
- 28thJune – Mont Blanc 90K
- July/August – Race TBA
What is your typical race strategy for an ultra?
I’m very relaxed in my approach to most events and tend to trust in my fitness and conditioning to see me through to the finish. My chances of winning are zero, so there is never any time or race pressure, which is a great advantage.
I’m quick through checkpoints and feed stations and my golden rule is to keep moving.
I work to a strict mantra which I stole with pride from Ultra Runner and Coach – Ronnie Staton.
There are only 3 reasons to quit – You are dead, you are unconscious or you’ve suffered a broken bone which prevents you from continuing!
He also said “I will be stopped, but I will not stop”
A pretty harsh set of rules, but they cover most scenarios.
What does a typical training week look like?
I love keeping fit and prefer training to racing.
Because I maintain a high level of fitness, I can usually drop into any race without much notice, at any time.
I know I over-train and I rarely have a rest day, but it seems to work.
I tend to run between 50-100 miles per week and do lots of strength and conditioning work in the gym.
Most of my running is with my dog Patrick, on hilly trails in the forest where I live. In the winter I increase the road work, but I’m not a member of an athletics club, so I miss out on essential speed and track sessions etc.
I also purchased a bike trainer this year and did al it of indoor work on the cycling App during the winter months.
What one tip would you pass onto people running an Ultra marathon for the first time?
I tend to simplify races, so I would definitely say – “Don’t overthink things – it’s just running”.
For example, I’ll tell people about my own event(s), “ I’ve just got to run to London” (GUCR).
I suppose I’ll be adopting the same mindset for Spartathlon – “I’ve just got to run to Sparta” 😂😂
Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
I got involved in Dog Showing and did really well.
My breeder talked me into it and in we started showing our first dog – ‘Archie’, an Irish Terrier.
He won all over the UK and Ireland and in 2013 became won his third Challenge Certificate (CC) at Crufts, to become a Champion.
That’s the equivalent of me winning Spartathlon!!
Archie was also my training partner and ran several trail marathons with me.
He is sorely missed 😢
Have you taken part in the Spartathlon before?
What are you looking forward to at the Spartathlon race?
I’m looking forward to being part of the British Spartathlon Team and sharing the experience with my wife Sue. If I’m lucky enough to finish, I’m also looking forward to the celebrating in style with everyone else .
What are you not looking forward to during the Spartathlon race?
The suffering and low points I know I’ll endure sometime between mile 1 and mile 150.
I know I’ll enjoy the last 5K, regardless of how much I’m hurting.
How will you prepare specifically for the Spartathlon race?
I’ve been racing and training hard all year. Things went fairly well in this year’s Grand Union Canal Race, so I’m good for the distance.
I’ll be increasing my road mileage and I’m considering a 100 mile road race in August, to test footwear and pacing.
Will you be bringing any support crew to the race? (If so, please introduce them briefly)
My wife Sue